Ravens hand, p.16
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       Raven's Hand, p.16

           James Somers
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  “You are the one who killed him, girl,” she hissed. “You killed him with a kiss.”

  I was left in the smoking ruin of the Malkind Temple. Honestly, I couldn’t help but wish that I had been the direct cause of this disaster. I would have liked nothing better right now than to set this entire palace aflame with Evelyn and her son and her assassin inside. Wishful thinking, but impractical now.

  Prince Nathan had been removed to another room where a physician was looking him over for injury. It may have been that he was incapable of continuing with the ritual today. It was too bad my blood hadn’t killed him straight away. At the very least, this mayhem might have bought me some bit of precious time. Yet, what to do?

  Kane stood guard here in the chamber. He remained so still, I was beginning to wonder if he had fallen asleep. But I was sure that wasn’t the case. If I tried to escape, or move an inch from where I had been left sitting upon the flagstones, he would know it and stop me.

  The revelation of my apparent bonding still had me reeling. With my mind, I thought it must be impossible. Yet, with my heart, I felt like it had been true for a long time—ever since I had fallen in love with this boy in my dreams while still at the abbey.

  Could I have bonded with him in my dreams? Perhaps, it hadn’t been the kiss at all. Maybe, I had been bonded to Killian for much longer. Perhaps, that was why I was able to communicate with him in those dreams.

  My eyes remained fixed upon Kane standing in the chamber near the blessed sword. Minutes ago, the assassin had attempted to remove it from the base of the pedestal. He couldn’t even keep his hand upon it. I almost laughed, when he jerked his hand away. He looked like he had taken hold of a hot coal.

  My thoughts went to Killian—not just wondering about him, but trying to seek him out and make some connection like we had in our mutual dreams. This required me to split my mind. Finding him turned out to be almost effortless. Was our connection really so strong?

  He was still in his cell in the dungeon nearly one hundred feet below and to the south. Killian had regained consciousness. I could feel his waking mind. A more concerted effort on my part allowed me to sense his thoughts.

  Killian wanted very badly to get out of his cell. He was angry and concerned. These thoughts gave me pause and broke my heart. He was concerned not for himself but for my well-being. He wanted to save me from my fate as Nathan Rainier’s slave.

  Something else was happening now. I sensed new thoughts, turmoil and hatred. He was focused upon someone. The queen had arrived in the dungeon.

  I pushed my mind out even further, trying to join as completely as possible with Killian, so that I might know what was being said. Words were exchanged between them, but I could not make out the conversation. Still, I could feel the mounting tension in that chamber far below.

  Something happened that made Killian fear. His life was about to end. I could sense his resignation, his desire to live, and the understanding that he would not.

  I cried out in my mind, desiring to see him, to feel him in my arms. Why could I not have had a vision of him now? I reached into the depths of power residing inside me, as a Daughter of Eliam, more than ever before. Killian came into sharp focus with Evelyn standing before the bars of his prison cell.

  She raised her wand to strike him down. The runes glowed brightly. This all happened in a fraction of a second. I had no time. Evelyn meant to end his life. Eliam, help me! What can I possibly do?

  Killian stood when the door opened at the end of the corridor. He heard the voice of the queen commanding the guard to attend to her. The big oaf complied quickly, making every attempt to bow and scrape for her as he ushered her down the hall toward his cell.

  The guard brought a torch with him and placed it in an iron sconce upon the block wall. He then stepped away, so that Evelyn might speak to the prisoner unhindered. Still, he remained only a few feet away, just in case Killian attempted to harm her in some way; though, with thick steel bars standing between them, it seems unlikely.

  Evelyn started a little when she saw him. She had not expected the young man to be so battered about the face. His jaw was swollen and purple, as well as around his eyes. Rivulets of blood had dried upon his skin, issuing from cuts and scrapes inflicted recently.

  He appeared rather ghastly, and Evelyn wondered for a moment if the soldiers might have entertained themselves after the boy’s capture. Still, she had not come down here to do the boy any favors. He was the cause for the ritual failing. He was the reason why her son had almost died while attempting to bond with the girl. Killian Radden-son had outlived his usefulness.

  The young man came to the bars in his fury. His voice was muffled. His jaw appeared to have been broken during the beating he had suffered. That was now the least of his worries.

  Evelyn found herself yelling at the boy, telling him how foolish he had been to interfere in her affairs. She was angry, but Killian Radden-son was only incidental to the situation. Evelyn’s temper had loosed because her family was in danger.

  A civil war could erupt over the fate of the throne at any time. House Rainier was ill prepared for a major conflict. They might hold the capital city, but they’re power and resources had waned since Stephen’s health began failing him. The multitude of business contracts held by the throne had gone to rival houses in recent years, making them more powerful while Rainier slowly diminished.

  Evelyn had attempted to intervene, to make things right and negotiate their long held arrangements. However, the king’s health was public knowledge. Those businessmen who had once dealt faithfully with the crown, knew how to recognize the winds of change blowing. They hedged their bets on Rainier’s rivals which had only fueled the likelihood that one of the great houses would take advantage of the situation and seize control.

  As queen, Evelyn saw her kingdom slipping away day by day. As a mother, her son stood to be executed in order for power to transfer to whatever house chose to put its heir on the throne. As a wife, she felt alone. Her husband had become a burden, and a childish one at that.

  Now, her anger burned hot and she would no longer hold it back. This boy must die in order to have any hope of saving her great house. She raised her Malkind wand, pointing it at Killian’s chest. The boy, for his part, did not flinch away. He stood firm, ready to receive what she would deal to him.

  The wand brightened as its runes illuminated with the power Evelyn awakened with her thoughts. Those thoughts were death to Killian Radden-son. The power of the Malkind spirits would fulfill her desire gladly. A bolt of power erupted like lightning from the glowing tip of the wand.

  It forked outward through the prison bars and struck the wall behind, leaving a flaming scorch mark upon the stones. Evelyn stammered, searching for the boy she meant to kill. However, Killian Radden-son was no longer there.


  I gasped as the energy from Evelyn’s Malkind wand charged through the air at my love. My eyes flew open, only to find Killian standing before me in the temple chamber next to the shattered pedestal. He had been beaten severely about the face and head, but I could still see the shock in his expression.

  I had no idea what had happened. One moment Killian had been below in the dungeon facing a bolt of power from Evelyn’s wand that would surely have killed him, the next he was standing before me, appearing without so much as a sound. We stared at one another in bewilderment for mere seconds before I remembered who else was in the chamber with us.

  I turned just as Kane’s eyes opened to find Killian there with us. A look of disbelief crossed his face, but only for a moment. He drew his sword, preparing to charge at Killian and kill him. I reacted in the only way I knew how.

  Power issued forth from me, striking Kane an invisible blow that sent him tumbling across the chamber floor. I knew my attack was only possible because the assassin had been focusing on Killian rather than me, but at least it bought us a few precious seconds. Killian needed no prodding. He spotted the blessed sword stand
ing out of the pedestal stone and reached for it.

  I began to warn him that the weapon would not come free, but Killian was already taking hold. The blade practically sprang out of the stone at his touch. Killian rushed ahead, putting himself between me and the assassin who was now getting up off of the floor.

  When he saw Killian with the sword, anger burned across his face. He charged and struck expertly, and I feared that his superior skill would overcome Killian, but I was wrong. Killian not only held his own as the battle began, he advanced upon the assassin with steady powerful blows. His technique was as blindingly fast as Kane’s, and I could not help but wonder how much of this was Killian and how much was the blade blessed by Eliam.

  Kane realized that his natural advantage was gone in this contest. Killian had been well-trained and was highly adept at sword fighting, despite his youth. He wouldn’t beat my love with skill alone.

  He resorted to his unnatural advantage instead, choosing a spiritual attack empowered by the Malkind spirit using his skin. The assassin parried a sword strike from Killian and then dodged back, letting loose with a blast of power meant to topple my love, but Killian parried the energy of the attack with the blessed blade and stepped closer, unleashing a terrible energy attack of his own.

  Killian swiped the air with the blessed blade, slashing an arc of light before him that issued forth like an illuminated shock wave. The attack was unexpected and savage, pummeling the assassin and knocking his weapon out of his hand. Kane hit the wall and sank to the floor.

  Killian lunged at the man while he was down, while I waited behind, wondering how long it would take Evelyn to realize what had happened to her prisoner below and come up here. She might have already been on her way. I wasn’t sure if she would come alone or bring her soldiers with her. Alone, I might be able to take her in a fight while Killian battled the possessed assassin. After all, he was doing better than I would have expected.

  However, as Killian came to deal the deathblow, while he was down, Kane roared in unnatural fury. His voice was now a mixture of several dissonant tones, all spilling forth like sewage from an overflowing gutter. The demon was fully awake and angry.

  He swiped his hand toward Killian, igniting the air with flames of fire meant to keep my love and his weapon at bay while he recovered. Killian paused, shielding us with the sword which had responded to the counterattack with an inner luminosity. It’s almost as if the presence of the demon’s power had excited Eliam’s energies placed upon the sword.

  “Kill him quickly, before the Malkind spirit takes over completely!” I yelled over the din of battle.

  Killian attempted to charge toward the wounded assassin again before he could recover himself. Another roar of power caused the stones beneath our feet to shatter. He was on his feet again, and the eyes were glowing brightly with inner spiritual light.

  I felt the oppressive influence of the Malkind spirit gathering within the temple chamber. It felt like a storm coming, building in strength, readying a release that would sweep away everything in its path. We could not stay here.

  Kane’s hands came up toward Killian. They burst into flames—flames that he meant to hurl at my love. The wall behind the assassin ignited, becoming an inferno that threatened to sweep around the room and surround us in fire. When that happened, we would both be consumed.

  I delved deep into the well of power within my person as a Daughter of Eliam. Thrusting my hands skyward toward the ceiling, I then seized hold upon it with my mind and dragged my hands down. The entire ceiling collapsed down upon Kane, snuffing out the flames gathering about him. I pulled Killian back as the falling stones became an avalanche that would destroy us also if we remained.

  He followed me out of the chamber into the corridor, barely escaping the archway before it also came down in the conflagration. The sounds of shouting and crying resounded all around us. The collapse of this chamber might have set off a chain reaction of ruin in the rest of the palace. There was no sign of Evelyn yet, and Kane remained beneath the pile of stones for now.

  Intuition told me, however, that he had not perished. The Malkind spirit could have strengthened his body to withstand the downfall of the ceiling, or might have simply used its considerable power to shield him from harm. Either way, he would be back.

  “We must flee while we can,” I said, pulling him by the hand.

  The sound of stones falling came to us through the corridors of the palace with the screams of those trapped beneath them. Guards and other palace denizens passed us, going in different directions, reacting to the emergency. None of them paid us any attention. We were no different to them than anyone else trying to escape the scene as parts of the palace structure collapsed around us.

  We ran through passages, turning at intersections, attempting to find our way out. Killian took over leading after we passed several places where rubble had fallen into the corridor. “I know how to get to the stables from here,” he said, smiling. I nodded and followed him, still holding to his hand. The sword remained out in his other, ready in case we ran into any opposition.

  Soon, we found ourselves in stables as Killian had planned. There were two rows of stalls here and many fine animals to choose from. We spotted a dappled mare in one stall, and Killian began to saddle her, when a loud equine scream came to us from several stalls down.

  We looked to find another horse shaking its head out over its stall door, as if to motion us down to its location.

  “Esmeralda!” Killian exclaimed happily. “What are you—?” His expression became concerned as we reached the mare and her stall. “Father must be here at the palace because of me,” he said.

  The horse, surprisingly, seemed to understand and agree with this statement, nodding her head.

  “This is your horse?” I asked curiously.

  “More like a part of our family,” Killian said, stroking her muzzle affectionately.

  The mare regarded me warily. I stroked her muzzle, and her thoughts became known to me. She was angry over Killian’s father and fearful for his life. She was concerned about my presence with Killian also. She didn’t trust me.

  I shared my thoughts of Killian with her, allowing her to feel my love for him. I sensed a deep affection for Killian from her also. She meant to protect him. Still, after only a moment, she began to relax. Killian regarded us both curiously, smiling.

  “Well, it seems you possess the gift with animals as well,” he said.

  I smiled at him fondly, releasing Esmeralda. “I am a Daughter of Eliam, am I not?” I said. “All of us have the ability to share thoughts with intelligent creatures. We are all part of what Eliam made.” Then what he said actually sank in. “Can you share thoughts with her also?”

  Killian nodded. “Sometimes she tells me things I don’t want to hear,” he said. “She can be fussy when she gets her dander up.”

  I smiled and then realized we were delaying too long. Kane would emerge from the rubble and come after us. Evelyn also, when she realized what had happened, would send her soldiers. We had to escape while we could.

  “I think I can sense what you’re thinking also,” he said. “At least, that is, when we are close like this. However, I cannot leave my father here at the palace with all of this trouble brewing.”

  I did not say anything. I could understand why Killian would want to rescue his father first. Of course, he would. It was only natural, and his father would certainly be in danger after all that had happened this evening.

  Killian’s expression changed from concerned to resolute. “No,” he said, “we cannot delay any longer. You’re right, the soldiers will come for us. Either father is safe now and might find his way from here, or he is already a prisoner. If the latter, then I’ll have to come back for him. However, not before I see you safely away from this castle.”

  “You must be in terrible pain,” I realized, examining his facial injuries more closely. “You can barely talk where I can understand you.”

I’ll be all right,” Killian said attempting to grin, but failing rather miserably because of his swollen jaw.

  I laid my hand lightly upon his skin. Immediately, I received a deeper understanding of his injury. “Your jaw is broken in three places,” I said. “The rest of it is all swelling, cuts and bruises. I can easily heal them. The bone will take longer and be painful.”

  Killian laid his hand over mine upon his face. He attempted a pained smile, closing his eyes as he appeared to enjoy my touch. I knew it must hurt just having anyone touch it, but he didn’t let on that he experienced any discomfort. Still, it was obvious he must be in terrible pain every moment.

  “Not here,” he said. “I have to get you to safety.”

  “Then you’ll allow me to take care of you?” I asked.

  He nodded as I withdrew my hand. I motioned toward the stall door and it opened at my thought command. Esmeralda came out to us, still wearing the saddle Killian’s father must have rode in on. Killian hopped into the saddle and then reached down to bring me up also.

  I settled in behind him, doing my best to ignore the discomfort of the gown in this awkward position. This was no time for expressing my concerns over it. We were running for our lives, not attending a ball.

  Esmeralda walked us out of the stall and then took up a canter through the stables. When we reach the courtyard beyond, we spotted soldiers. Killian kicked his heels gently in the stirrups and Esmeralda rocketed forward, escaping the courtyard before the bewildered soldiers there realized that we shouldn’t even be there, let alone riding a horse at a hard clip away from the palace. They only seemed to know that trouble was brewing inside those gilt walls, and they should be investigating that situation rather than concerning themselves with a young man and woman going out for a ride through the countryside.

  Evelyn manipulated her wand, gesticulating wildly in her attempt to uncover what remained of the temple where she had left her servant, Kane, and the young Daughter of Eliam. Thankfully, she had sent her son, Nathan, to the infirmary prior to going to the dungeon in order to kill Radden’s son. Had she not, this attack upon the palace, or earthquake, or whatever it was would surely have claimed his life when the entire ceiling of the temple came crashing down.

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